Ideas for companies with limited resources

Safety cones, safety vests, caution tape, gloves and safe lifting and digging techniques are all equally important at Willamette Landscape Services in Tualatin, Ore. The company stresses safety to its employees in everything they do.

Appoint a small safety committee or team. Make up truck packets with basic safety information. Request a meeting with your workers’ compensation carrier’s risk management specialist.

These are just three of the many free or low-cost safety ideas green industry companies with limited resources can implement. Being a small landscape or green industry company doesn’t reduce the risk of a serious injury or death. In fact, should one occur, the total costs could put you out of business.

Matt Triplett, co-owner of Willamette Landscape Services, Inc., in Tualatin, Ore., whose company employs 45 to 70 workers (depending on the season), believes that small companies in our industry cannot afford to ignore safety.

“Even with 12 employees, we had a safety committee and our attitudes were the same,” says Triplett, whose company has been recognized nationally for achieving OSHA-Safety & Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) certification.

“There is a strong sense in our company that every employee should be paid for doing a job that should never put a person in harm’s way,” he says. “I tell every one of our employees: ‘There is no job here that you will be asked to do that could possibly harm you if you do it right. If something makes you uncomfortable, back away and let’s talk about it.’ Our company truly believes that each employee should go home at night in better shape than when the person came in that morning.”

Thank you for being safe

Both Willamette and Green Acres Landscape Management in Greenville, Wis., which employs about 42 workers, use low-cost incentive programs to thank employees who work safely.

“We have instituted a reward program. For example, everyone who is wearing his or her personal protective equipment (PPE) or voices a safety concern is entered into a drawing every month,” Green Acres’ Human Resources and Safety Manager Tammy Krahn says. The winner of the random drawing gets a low-cost prize, such as a big water bottle that contains a compass or a first aid kit, she says.

Putting on your safety vest when preparing to go to a job site is just one of many safety measures stressed at Willamette Landscape Services.

At Willamette, the company’s 12- member safety committee meets once a month and leads weekly tailgate safety training sessions. “The only cost is time, and it’s time we’ve easily recouped over the years in reduced claims and lower insurance premiums,” Triplett says. The committee has its own budget and has, over the years, used it for these, and other, low-cost safety initiatives:

• Monthly and annual prizes to people who submit the top safety suggestions via the company’s safety suggestion box. Monthly prizes include such items as lunch, a pair of pruners or paid time off; annual prizes range from nice dinners to more paid time off.

• Regular “thank you for being safe” barbecues when the company has accident-free months.

• Outfitting of trucks and trailers with grip tape to prevent slipping.

• Free meetings with OSHA State Consultation Program consultants and insurance carriers. (Visit www.osha.gov for more information on the OSHA State Consultation Program.)

Willamette’s truck packets are placed in every vehicle, Triplett says. In addition to material safety data sheets (MSDS) and the “what to do in case of an accident” sheet, they include a map with hospital locations and company information that may need to be shared if there is an accident.

“By training to these packets, each company driver receives additional reinforcement that we want to be safe, and if something does happen, the process is not a mystery. It really gives them a stronger sense of confidence and comfort, and these only cost a few dollars to produce,” Triplett says.

Krahn, whose company covers two safety topics per month with employees (one in a face-to-face meeting and the other in the company newsletter), believes that the most important step a small company can take is to institute a regular safety training program.

“There are a lot of different resources you can use,” she says. “If you have Internet, OSHA has a great Web site (www.osha.gov). There’s the OSHA-PLANET (Professional Landcare Network) Landscape and Horticultural Services Web site (www.osha.gov/SLTC/landscaping/index.html) and other PLANET resources (visit www.LandcareNetwork.org). I also use our risk insurance company. They have a video library we can tap into. I also got somebody from there to come out and do a (risk) assessment.”

Another good resource Krahn has used is other companies within the landscape industry. “There are a lot of people within the industry who are willing to share information. We all have a common goal—to make the industry safer,” she says.

Barbara Mulhern is a Belleville, Wis.-based agricultural/horticultural freelance writer.

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More Good Ideas

1. Make it easy for your crews to be safe.

“Have all of the PPE they might need in stock. Make sure your equipment is in tip-top shape. Spend a little money keeping safety switches, hand grips, operator controls and tires in ‘like new’ condition. Also, keep your facilities clean,” Triplett suggests.

2. Bid your work to get the job done well without rushing or taking chances.

“If a project is underbid, there is a tendency to push too hard to make budget, and that’s when accidents happen,” Triplett says. “In the end, the cost of the accident will most likely wipe out any benefit to having won the contract at a lower price.”

3. Take digital photos.

Keep a small digital camera on you. Take photos whenever you spot a hazard or potential hazard, then enlarge those photos and post them on your employee bulletin board with a note asking employees: “What’s wrong with this photo?” Also, take photos of employees who are acting safely. Again, post the photos or include them in your company newsletter with a congratulatory note to the “safe” employees.

4. Develop paycheck stuffers.

Write a short safety reminder (such as “Wear your safety glasses”) on a piece of paper, make copies and include it with your employees’ paychecks. Coming up with new reminders each pay period is a great project for your company’s safety committee.

5. Use safety “mentors” for new employees.

This is especially helpful for nonnative employees. If you have an experienced worker with a good safety record whose native language and culture is the same as that of a new worker, assign that person to the new employee. The mentor’s role should be to answer any safety-related questions that arise and—in general—to offer support (and serve as a safety role model) to the new employee.

6. Set a safe example.

Think each time you show up at a job site and are tempted to quickly check it without putting on your hard hat or other PPE. What kind of example are you setting for your employees? Setting a good safety example doesn’t cost anything, but employees will look to you and to your other managers to determine how they should behave.

7. Let your workers know that you care.

Tell them that you want them to work safely so they can go home uninjured to their families each and every day. Let them know that is the most important reason why your company has safety policies and rules—so they don’t lose an arm, a leg, an eye or even their lives. Tell them that you want them to be able to see their children grow up; that’s why wearing the safety glasses you require is so critical. “You just have to care,” Triplett says. “Once that caring is truly embraced, the wheels will start in motion and you’ll find ways to do good things. From then on, it’s all about reinforcing that emotion through action—and the action doesn’t have to cost a lot.”